Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jonah Lehrer

I wrote a piece for Newsweek last night and gave a Q&A to Salon on the journalism scandal involving Jonah Lehrer. I have sympathy for him. Another young promising journalist whose self-sabotage is lead to the end of his career (he worked for The New Yorker until yesterday). I vividly remember that feeling of not being able to let go as my career crumbled like the Monte Cassino under weeks of Allied bombing in World War II Italy. Its hard to let go even when the building is crumbling. I know its probably feels like the end of something special, but I hope this bright young man finds redemption waiting for him in the future.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Shalom to a Friend

Shalom is a word that has many meanings. It is a Hebrew word that
means peace, welfare, completeness, hello and goodbye.

In his 1995 eulogy at Yitzak Rabin's funeral, Bill Clinton captured the
world when he uttered the simple Hebrew phrase, "Shalom Chaver" --
Farewell, my friend.  This week I had the unfortunate duty of saying
goodbye to my friend.

In Beth Nielsen Chapman's song "Sand and Water," which is about the
premature death of her husband, she sings "All alone, I came into this
world. All alone, I will someday die." And so it was with my friend,
who died under a bridge, homeless and alone.

There is, however, a notion embedded in that song about the impact a
person can have in between those two points of being alone -- the
impact they can have on our lives. As Nielsen Chapman sings, "I will
see you in the light of a thousand suns. I will hear you in the sound
of the waves. I will know you when I come, as we all will come.
Through the doors beyond the grave." My friend would have appreciated
the metaphor -- he loved the beach and he died on the water near one.
He would appreciate that his life continues on through his kind words,
good ideas and other things that he has done.

People have said that I should feel no guilt at this passing. I
understand that I should not be ashamed. I understand that I did, in
each moment, what I thought was best. But I also believe what Judith
Viorst wrote in her book Necessary Losses, that losses "... are a part
of life-universal, unavailable, inexorable. And these losses are
necessary because we grow by losing and leaving and letting go." And
part of what I can learn to honor my friend's death are new tools to
help others in the future. And I will do this, in his honor. I can
also help others learn by sharing his story.

I wrote a note to a group of friends who had something in common with
my friend. We all suffer from either bipolar or depression. It was
meant to be a personal way to let them know of his passing and his
impact. I made the decision to share it here after getting a note from
one of those within that group who said that she hoped his story
reached a larger audience and also said, in part, that:

"In your piece, you've helped me appreciate what a fighter he was.
You've also done a masterful job of unmasking his unrelenting foe,
manic depression. Where's the parade for a solider who dies in a war
like that?"


This is that parade:

    Clark, our friend and one of the earliest members of the
    Centreville DBSA meeting, was found dead under a bridge in Virginia
    Beach. His family learned the news of his death yesterday. He
    was 46.

    The cause of death was pulmonary embolisms caused by deep vein
    thrombosis that was caused by, according to police, "dehydration,
    malnutrition and the homeless lifestyle."

    I knew Clark as an intelligent, good and loyal friend with a rich
    sense of humor, who had a great amount of compassion. He loved life
    and the people around him. We say this after almost everyone dies, but
    he was, truly, a good person. Clark was an enthusiastic member of the
    group, as interested in helping others facing bipolar and depression
    as he was in getting help himself. He helped us start our third group
    in Ashburn.

    Clark was open about his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder. Before
    suffering from his first full-blown manic episode, Clark, who grew up
    in Montgomery County, received a Bachelor of Arts degree in government
    and politics from the University of Maryland, worked as a computer
    specialist at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a
    regional manager for Hallmark Corporation, a data control specialist
    for Miami-Dade County and founded an online auction company.

    Clark's first major manic episode was devastating and sent his life
    spiraling out of control for several years. Clark was not be able to
    rebuild his life until he was jailed and then hospitalized as a result
    of that manic episode. Clark did a miraculous job during his early
    recovery, settling in Northern Virginia and getting back on his feet
    by working for Excel Courier in Sterling. After joining the
    Centreville group in early 2006, Clark obtained a position, through
    help from another group member, as a customer service administrator at
    Procraft in Chantilly. Clark left that position in 2007 to return to
    Virginia Beach after his mother's passing.

    At the time, Clark felt his recovery was going strong, as he had found
    a good psychiatrist who continued to provide him transitional care. He
    joined a church there, attended DBSA-Virginia Beach meetings and
    helped with his mother's affairs. Along the way, Clark worked in
    several jobs and had gone several years without a manic episode.

    In early 2010, Clark sought out a new psychiatrist, whom he said told
    him that he had ADHD and not bipolar. He later told me that he wanted
    to believe the doctor, even though he knew this was not the case.
    Clark's family and friends tried to intervene, with his brother going
    as far as reaching out to the doctor to explain the symptoms that
    Clark had experienced over his life. But the doctor put Clark on
    Adderall and took him off Lamictal, which sparked a manic episode that
    sent his life spiraling downward.

    Late last year, Clark told me he would do anything to get medication.
    But the Community Service Board in Virginia Beach told him he would
    have to wait. He no longer had insurance and was coming to grips with
    the devastation wrought by the episode. He was homeless, estranged
    from many family members and friends, sleeping in cars until he did
    not have one, and on streets after then. He was depressed and anxious,
    barely able, he said, to get two hours of sleep each night.

    In December of last year, Clark disappeared. As the months passed,
    many of us who were his family members and friends reached out in
    desperate attempts to find him. Many of us feared the worst as we
    hoped for the best. In May, Clark finally reached out to a family
    member, who was unable to connect with him because they were not able
    to return his call from a pay phone.

    It is unclear what Clark's final days and weeks were like, but I can
    imagine from what the final year of his life was like -- homeless,
    sleeping on streets, begging for food and friends, searching for a way
    to get on his feet and praying to the God he believed would help him
    find answers. One recent day, a group of recreational boaters saw Clark
    sitting under a bridge. When they returned a few minutes later,
    they saw him lying on his side. They called the police, but Clark had
    already passed by the time the police arrived.

    I know what Clark would want me to say to you right now. To those of
    you who were his friends, he would say, as he had said so many times,
    that he loved you and he'd thank you for all that you have done for him. To
    those who didn't know him, he would tell you, as he said in December,
    that his life was a cautionary tale, a story of the struggle that
    those of us with bipolar face with a disease that convinces us that we are
    not ill.

    I miss him so much already. But, with these words, I hope to honor his
    life.

Shalom, my friend, in every meaning of the word.